The contrast between baseball and soccer, my two favorite sports, was never more apparent than this past week.
With baseball acknowledging the yawning length of games – now over three hours and getting worse – soccer returned (was it ever away?) in Europe with matches under two hours.
This is a huge advantage for soccer. A fan can commit to a match, or even half a match, without falling into a slack-jawed stupor in front of one of those four-hour Sunday-night horrors the Yanks always seem to be playing.
I made the decision last Saturday morning that I could afford to watch the first half of Manchester United and was rewarded with the delicious sense that it was 2013-14 all over again. (Man U, lost, 2-1.) Then I came back from chores to watch the second half of Everton, with Tim Howard picking up where he left off for the USA in the World Cup, trying to overcome a weak back four. (Everton coughed up a tying goal, late.)
Two welcome chunks of the Premiership, and it was not yet noon.
Meantime, baseball is acknowledging that the average time of a game has gone from 2 hours 35 minutes to 3 hours 2 minutes 47 seconds -- the longest on record, according to Tyler Kepner in the Times.
One reason the games get longer was noted by Howard Kitt, once a promising lefty in the Yankee chain, who has been a specialist in antitrust issues with a keen eye on sports business. (I covered him helping win county titles in basketball and baseball at Oceanside High around 1960.)
Kitt, who advanced as high as AAA ball, listed one cause of long games – “the number of pitching changes per game, especially in the late innings.
“When I played, there were three categories of pitchers: starters, long relievers and short relievers. Starters were expected to finish; long relievers were used when a starter didn't have it; and short relievers were used when a starter ran out of gas and/or when a fresh arm was needed to finish a tight game. Closers? Never hoid of 'em!
“Now, the last three innings frequently take at least as long as the first six because of the number of pitching changes by each side. Think about it: A manager walks out to the mound; signals for a reliever; who comes in from somewhere beyond the outfield fence; who then proceeds to take eight warmup pitches (hardly necessary simply to get a feel for the mound, given that the pitcher is already warm); after which--finally--the game resumes. Multiply that time two or three times per team, and some real time elapses (this can easily be verified with a stopwatch).”
Kitt, who understands the importance of commercials in televised sports, added: “If this is required by TV sponsors, understood; if not, limit the number of changes per inning and watch the game speed up.”
Asked about the number of pitchers who seem to fall apart these days, Kitt cited the high salaries since free agency. Players don’t have to take off-season jobs as they did back in the 60’s and can work out virtually all year. Do their bodies ever really rest?
However, no sport grinds its players down more greedily than soccer. We saw Champions League-level players trudge into the World Cup in early June and many of them were still slogging into July. A few weeks after the final, my favorite-named player, Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany, flew across the world for a meaningless friendly and was creamed by a red-hot player from Major League Soccer. Now he’s out six weeks.
Soccer, under the see-no-evil “leadership” of Sepp Blatter, does not care. On Monday, Neymar of Brazil, last seen writhing on the grass with a broken back on July 4, was running around Camp Nou on Barcelona, along with his new playmate, Luis Suarez, he of the health-hazard choppers.
I know Suarez is suspended from some league and national matches, but shouldn’t he be banned from going out in public until he is trained?
On Tuesday, some of the lads were playing in an early round of the Champions League.
But at least soccer league matches are over in two hours, whereas baseball could be dawdling toward irrelevancy.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.